Mark Shelton, Contemporary Native American Artist
Mark Shelton creates intense color fields and textures by layering bits of exotic papers in the construction of his Native American subjects. His distinct collages are further enhanced with boldly applied acrylics. Mark’s pieces reflect moments of traditional identity—offering a prayer, weaving a blanket, reflecting upon sacred waters.
Born and raised in Illinois, Mark began making art of one kind or another as a small child, stating, “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t creating artwork.” He first came to know about “Indians” through Hollywood movies. As a child, he hadn’t been told his grandmother was Seneca since children of mixed heritage frequently weren’t made aware 50 years ago. Some realizations, however, seem destined.
Mark found himself identifying with Indian ways, stereotyped as they were. As young boys, when Mark and his cousin played Cowboys and Indians in mock battles, they always embraced the Indigenous side. His cousin, though an adopted child of Italian heritage, began claiming and insisting he was Comanche. Mark was an adolescent before his father told him of his immediate ancestry. The reason for the long wait was due to the verbal abuse his great grandparents and then paternal grandmother had endured throughout their lives.
Mark moved to Oregon in 1984, where he began studying all Native American Peoples. Moving to New York City to attend art school, Mark graduated with honors from the Pratt Institute in 1991. He then returned to Oregon and began a career in earnest as a painter of Native American subjects. Chief Cliff Snider (Gray Wolf) recommended, and the Chinook Tribe ceremonially bestowed, the title of Honorary Chinook Tribal Artist upon Mark in 2006.
The Native American art world holds a number of annual shows and markets that showcase artists. Two of them are juried and are considered preeminent venues, The Santa Fe Indian Market in New Mexico and The Heard Show in Phoenix, AZ. Mark has shown in both, receiving an award at The Heard. Internationally, Mark’s works are represented in the Italian village of Vernazza, part of the ultra-picturesque Cinque Terre Coast. One art critic has described Mark’s strength’s as knowing “how to balance brilliant colors with brilliant colors in order to achieve a shimmering allure” in his works.
Today, artwork is a key component for confirming, demonstrating, and celebrating the identity of many tribes, including those with Federal recognition and reservation lands. For tribes without Federal recognition, such as the Chinook, they are even more reliant upon this method of expression to help preserve their identity and culture. Mark Shelton, of the Seneca People and also Honorary Chinook Tribal Artist, embraces his duty and ardently endeavors.